The concept of retail is simple. Find a good location, stock it with things you think the general public would like to buy from you, hire and train some strangers to be your brand ambassadors, sell the naming rights to your first born in exchange for not quite enough money to get up and running, then hope for the best.
In today’s competitive retail environment, where most compete on price and margins are thinner than a supermodel turned sideways, you can’t expect to be successful just by virtue of opening your doors. Although some do reap success in spite of themselves, the majority need twenty years to become an overnight success.
If you choose retail as a means to acquire your wealth, you’ve acknowledged that marrying money is not an option. You’ve also admitted the odds of your winning the lottery are conspiratorially high, and your parents have said in no uncertain terms that an inheritance is as remote a possibility as a weekend getaway to the newly discovered super Earth in the Kepler-22 star system.
Being left only with the option of earning your way through life, in retail you spend a lot of time on your feet. Rare time off involves shopping for support hose to keep your legs from swelling because you spend so much time on your feet. You’ll come home late, eat cold leftovers, kiss your kids while they’re sleeping, then hand wash your support hose in the bathroom sink and hang them to dry in the shower, preferably after your spouse is asleep, because the glamour of all this could be too much to take in anything other than exceptionally small doses.
The rigors of retail are easily offset by the customers who bestow on your staff a generous gift at Christmas; who take the time to post a great comment on any one of a number of review websites; who tell and bring their friends and colleagues and become good, regular customers.
The built-in sand trap of retail has to be the customer whose expectations can’t be met. We’d thought we’d seen and heard it all, but this year brought a whole new silliness to the till. For example, Emma had this dialogue with a shopper recently:
“What grade is your chocolate?” the customer asks.
“We use the finest Belgian Callebaut chocolate to remold all of our bars and bonbons, by hand,” she answers.
“But what grade is it?” the customer replied.
“It’s not meat. Chocolate isn’t graded to the best of my knowledge.” Emma retorts.
“Then your knowledge is nothing.” she says, and storms out.
We’ll help you choose a hostess gift, introduce you to the pleasures of dark chocolate, ply you with chocolate and coffee trivia, heck, we’ll even give you directions and change for parking if you want, but we’re not going to tell you it’s Triple AAA+ chocolate just to appease you when no such concept exists.
Earlier in the year, I had a lady come in with a gift box of chocolate that she wanted to return. I carefully explained that we can’t take back a perishable food product, especially one that had been opened.
“I never opened it,” she said.
“Then why do you want to return it?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t like these flavours.” she said.
“How do you know you don’t like any of these flavours?” I came back to her with.
“Because I tried one.” She admitted.
I tried to be tactful and diplomatic, but I’m beside myself because it’s obvious the customer is being less than truthful. I open the box to see what else she’s tried but won’t admit to, and see the Christmas rum and eggnog chocolate bar inside. I only make this particular bar seasonally, and it usually carries a mid-January expiration date. The woman is in my store in July.
This one ends with her throwing the box, me ducking to avoid being hit, and it smashing to bits against the glass beverage fridge behind me. The store went quiet. My staff was stunned. Five minutes after she’s left the store. the phone rang. It was the woman’s son, calling to threaten me. I reminded him of the small technological innovation that is call display, whereupon he threw a string of expletives at me, and then hung up. I don’t recall getting a Christmas card from her this year.
With ever increasing frequency it seems, we’ll put a drink up on bar and call it out, and get this from a customer.
“Oh, gosh, I wanted soy milk in my hot chocolate. Regular milk will kill me. I’m severely allergic. Can you make me a new one?”
“But there’s whole cream in the chocolate ganache.” the barista will say.
“That’s OK.” the customer replies.
I guess there are two kinds of death by anaphylactic shock. The real kind and the fake kind. It’s obvious we need to work on our predictive capabilities. Who knows, if we get good at correctly surmising who wants what menu item made a certain way without us asking or them telling, it could make it easier for us to pick the trifecta at Hastings Racecourse next season when the ponies begin to run.
We open our doors each morning confident that the day will be uneventful and that people will want what we have to sell. Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera said, “market research is what you do when your product isn’t any good.” Steve Jobs followed that with, “it isn’t the consumer’s job to know what they want.”
We sell handmade chocolate. We’ll be at it again daily in 2012, hoping we’ve done right by you to see you again. All the best for the New Year.
Mink Chocolates Inc.,
Mink A Chocolate Cafe Ltd.
Call the store: 604.633.2451
Call my mobile: 604.376.3464
Call toll free: 1.866.283.5181
Watch: www.youtube.com search mink chocolates
15775 Croydon Drive
Surrey, B C V3S 2L6